on a Theme

by Beckmann 
Austin Dispatches No. 102 (Nov. 12, 2007)
My financial momentum has stalled.  I may have botched my chances this quarter by taking time off to visit the family and have two wisdom teeth removed. In other words, I'm jobless because I listened to medical professionals and honored my parents. 

The wild factor in all this is my apartment lease. The landlord keeps increasing the length of lease at which my rent remains tolerable; my current, 13-month lease expires in March.  Austin’s avoided the nationwide housing slump so far; therefore, any local rental unit will cost about $1 per square foot.1

Amidst the grand stagflationary miasma, job interviews have turned stranger.2  On Halloween, I suited up for an impromptu group meeting at a certain major corporation in far northeast Austin. An agency with which I’ve had good rapport, but which has yet to represent me on a contract, called with an emergency. The agency’s original tech writer had overslept the first two days on the job, so the client wanted a replacement. The agency called me about 10 a.m.; I was at Parmer South three hours later.  But then the recruiter who was supposed to arrange the introductions was late for the appointment. Once again, I had total self-confidence, and no confidence in the people around me. Thirty more years of this?

My back was against the wall of a small conference room as the project managers for this anonymous company’s customer installation team questioned me. They need documentation because it’s absent, and that hampers them when they’re too busy putting out fires for the customers. And they’re always doing that – sometimes literally. They’re so stressed it’s effecting their judgment. I sketched a comprehensive method, all based on past experience, for consistent documentation that eliminates bottlenecks and backlogs and captures the knowledge currently stored only in the minds of the subject matter experts, but I sensed resistance from the managers, particularly from the nerdiest one.3 

Earlier, the recruit-o-rama gave me a unique experience: my first-ever job interview conducted by someone from personnel.  Over the phone the interviewer asked a bunch of stock screening questions I first encountered as an aspiring supermarket stocker. I still don't know the definitive answers to them. It contributed to feeling like I was in a time warp, where David Lee Roth is the lead vocalist for Van Halen4 and Ron Paul is running for president, yet I’m older, and still haven’t overcome the challenges of wealth, time, and love.  I guess I'd better get cracking on those college applications and buy some new polo shirts.5 

The company, which also shall remain nameless, produces the software for the unpopular local toll roads.6 I had reservations about working for a company that feasts so avidly at the public trough. The recently completed Highway 183A toll road project appears to have cleared a lot of small merchants out of the strip malls and shopping plazas at the south end, all the way down to Anderson Mill Road, and did nothing to improve the accessibility problem at Lakeline Mall.7 

But I need the money. Plus, it would’ve been a nice “fuck you” to the local libertoids – not necessarily associated with the Travis County LP – whom I met before I moved here. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. I explicitly offered future quid pro quos, including heavy political favors, in exchange for helping me land a job when I was flat on my ass. They acted like the whole matter was beneath them. I estimate their inaction cost me about $106,000 in lost income. That’s also engendered baleful, detrimental repercussions until now for the Texas LP, and the libertarian movement as a whole, because I couldn’t afford to volunteer time or money.8 

I vowed revenge when I returned to Austin.  They’ve mostly destroyed themselves, although I might’ve greased the skids a time or two, especially post-9/11.  Had they done what I asked them to do, when I asked them to do it, all this unpleasantness could’ve been avoided. The industry recruiters who gave me the same treatment have been throttled and slapped out of my way by the Invisible Hand;9 thus, no action against them was necessary. 

A friend in Houston remarked, “remind me never to piss you off.”

Close. A smart consideration, but the major lesson is Don’t Take Food Out of My Mouth.

However, this company didn’t bring me in for the second-round interview. Maybe the interviewer read Austin Dispatches.

Noche del Boricuas, y Otras Excursiones en la Ciudad

e102fig2 For Halloween after hours, I considered masquerading as Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer and TV host. I’d style my hair just so, add dark circles under my eyes, smoke and drink constantly, curse a lot, and behave like an opinionated, self-important asshole. It was a thespian stretch, but I think I could’ve pulled it off.10 

But I couldn’t find a cheap chef’s jacket in time. Instead, I knotted an ‘80s power necktie and went to parties as a Wall Street arbitrageur, to others’ puzzlement. I should’ve copied Mr. Fusion’s costume from a few years back. On his shirt, he placed an adhesive bow and gift tag that said, “From God.” And attended a party as …“God’s gift to women.” He got about the response you’d expect. But then, he is a wiseass.11 

My costume was about as inspired as most of the happenings.12  Halloween proper, I drove to a couple of nightspots, in the expectation something remarkable might happen, but both places were dead – no pun intended. I gave up, went home, fixed a Scotch highball, and read volumes of forgotten lore until I fell (or was pushed) into the arms of Morpheus.13

The next night, the Day of the Dead, was much better. The Fuerza Latina dance troupe celebrated its anniversary in a Mexican restaurant that also was celebrating its anniversary. Also, two dancers celebrated their birthdays. The women at the party, even the troupe in their fetching black and silver ensembles, actually seemed happy to see me and bussed me on the cheek. Elsewhere, they often studiously avoid eye contact. Maybe it was all the pastel, watered-down cocktails they’d quaffed. One advantage this time: The party was slow enough and quiet enough before the dancing started so I could actually converse with these women and amuse them with witty remarks.

I skipped the Texas Book Festival that weekend14 because it would’ve cut into my reading.

Nov. 9: Pianist Cedar Walton headlined the 13th annual Jazz at St. James’ Concert Series and Jazz Mass. I could discourse on his playing and place in music, but what you really need to know about the show is that his performance actually put me in a good mood, after a long day of frustrations and irritability, even if it took the first half hour of his set for that to happen. No small accomplishment.15 

Nov. 10: Tito Puente Jr. fronted a mambo band playing his father’s hits at The Monarch Event Center, in a converted movie theater that was the first to fall during the last recession. “Hey, this isn’t the eight o’clock showing for ‘Bee Movie,’ ” I said to some woman I danced with soon after.16 

Me and my brother saw Puente Sr. in concert in 1991. He was the most rhythmically attuned person I’ve ever witnessed, and his every movement during the show fit with whatever rhythm the band was playing at the time. Maybe Junior has the same ability, but I couldn’t vouch for it. I ended up dancing a lot more than I expected. I had to keep one eye on my partner and the other on the people around us.

One salsera I’ve danced with regularly resembles Halle Berry, only better. She snuck up behind me and introduced her boyfriend. “You’re a much better dancer than he is,” she told me.

He looked dismayed. I don’t blame him. Yeah, it was nice to know she thinks well of my dancing, since I’m always wondering if I should give it up after our turn on the dance floor every month or so. Still, even if her assessment is true, no self-respecting man should take that kind of crap. I knew there was a reason I never came on to her.

Nevertheless, I heard praise from other dance partners that night. Ironically, I’ve been negligent about practicing recently, haven’t danced socially as much I want, and am frustrated with my finite range of moves.  Is there a lesson in this?

Austin Death Watch

The guitar sculptures downtown – overpraised, garish eyesores – have been removed so they can be auctioned off – probably to people with more money than taste. That’s Austin’s power elite for you. First the elite pushes crippling government schemes under the guise of “improving” the city to its liking. Then they decorate the place like the inhabitants of some white-trash welfare trailer park.  For all their striving they reveal they’re the same hicks they moved to Austin to distance themselves from. At least in a trailer park, they’re not putting on airs when they act tacky and low class. But this is Austin, “a town full of yuppies pretending to be hippies and trust-fund kids pretending to be hipsters and hipsters pretending to be musicians.”  Hence, overblown expensive trinkets like these guitar sculptures.17

Cultural Canapés

By happenstance, I discovered a Web site that freely host the episodes of "South Park," in its 11th season, apparently with the OK of the creators.  I hadn’t seen many episodes previously; with that many seasons, I’d begun to wonder if I’d ever tackle the backlog. But seeing them for free online reduces the chore of driving to and from video stores to rent and return the episodes on DVD.18

Musician Dean Ween told The Onion his view of iPods’ impact on music:

I get sick when I think about someone going to iTunes and downloading two songs off our album. It's not meant to be listened to that way. But you can't expect too much of people. That's how people listen to music and buy it. But we put a lot of time into sequencing the record, and making it flow. We put a lot into the artwork, the whole package. And we take a lot of time to make it sound good. We recorded this record to tape, which is expensive, and those big machines are cumbersome and require a lot of maintenance. But we try our best to make it sound as good as we can. And then I think of somebody with those little fucking ear buds stuck in their head —whenever I see someone with an iPod, I want to take it and smash it or steal it. I hate everything about it, especially since it says "Designed in California" on the back. It's fucking gay. It sounds like shit.19

The Scoop

Austin Dispatches has scooped the Chronicle by three years. The Chronicle’s Nov. 9 issue contains a feature on a documentary film, “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” which was release four years ago and which I saw in late 2004.20  This surpasses our scooping the Statesman on coverage of Harry Browne’s 2000 presidential campaign by several months.21

After all these years, I finally read a book by Beltway journalist Kim Isaac Eisler. He might be a long-lost relative, but neither of us had enough genealogical evidence to prove it when I saw his byline and e-mailed him a few years ago.22  Anyway, “Revenge of the Pequots,” about an small Indian tribe in Connecticut that now runs a big casino, is a suitably bemused tale of greed, backbiting, and pious rhetoric masking base motives. In short, what Dad calls “humans in action.”23 

And after nearly four years, the Statesman once again allows viewers to read articles on its Web site without registration.

Air America has fallen silent in the Austin radio market, replaced by Mexican music. Now, I’ve never actually heard the network, so I don’t really have an opinion about the opinions expressed therein. There’ll be no foaming at the mouth about a bunch of America-hatin’ “liberals” etc., etc. in this section. In fact, I seldom listen to talk radio, largely because a given show’s callers usually hamper the pacing and the content. Also, KOOP-FM’s old “Liberated Space” with Angela Keaton and “Anarchy” Dave Hardy spoiled me.  The only other talk radio show I can think of fondly was hosted by G. Gordon Liddy, convicted Watergate felon who dispensed relationship advice to his callers on an ostensibly political program.24 

Anyway, I was interested that even the Chronicle couldn’t stand Air America.25  Al Franken used to be funny.  I don’t know what happened to him.26

The November issue of Business District magazine contains a feature on Austin’s book publishing industry.27  arthur magazine reports a decommissioned 2004 report funded by the Air Force claims “the possibilities for teleportation are limited and fairly undeveloped."28 The report also rules out “Star Trek-style teleporters.”  In its October issue, Geek Monthly, a new magazine, covers a marketing conference on how to extract money from Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2000.29 

Neighborhood News

The City Council approved the North Burnet/Gateway master plan, which directs development in the area through 2035.30  I fought against it as best I could, but the support wasn’t there.  The recent public meetings coincided with other, prior appointments, like the dental surgery. The upshot: My neighborhood of seven years will become increasingly unaffordable.31

The Lone Star Center strip mall has opened off Metric Boulevard, between Walgreen’s and Ptarmigan Drive. So far, a bank and a sushi bar are the mall’s tenants. A Shell/Q Mart filling station/convenience store has opened at Braker Lane and Parkfield Drive. Ben and Jerry’s closed at the Gracy Farms Center strip mall at MoPac Expressway and Duval Road.32

On Oct. 11, I witnessed an auto wreck at Burnet Road and Rutland Drive. On Oct. 17, Yahoo!’s local driving site recorded a collision at Parmer Lane and Metric Boulevard. On Nov. 2, I witnessed the aftermath of a smashup at the intersection of Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) and MoPac’s northbound frontage road. On Nov. 12, KGSR-FM reported another collision at 360 and MoPac.

Business Roundup

The long-anticipated Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave formally opened on Oct. 24.33  The architecture, including but not limited to the ubiquitous limestone cladding, put me in mind of an early post-frontier settlement, if the Hill Country had been settled by bobos armed with credit cards.34  Maybe it was the ongoing construction. And was it such a good idea to hold the grand opening while workers were bustling about with heavy machinery? As for the retailers, they were the same ones you see in every contemporary big shopping plaza. You don’t need to visit if you don’t live in southwest Travis County.

E-mail: austin dispatches - at - swbell net

1 Eisler, Dan. Letter to Chester Kiser, 2 Nov. 2007; Novak, Shonda, and M.B. Taboada. “Housing Down, Other Sectors Up in 2008 Forecast.” AAS 31 Oct. 2007: D1.
2 Burns, Scott. “Time to Deploy Shields Against Rise in Inflation.” AAS 9 Sep. 2007: H1.
3 AD No. 61 (Jan. 28, 2004); AD No. 72 (Oct. 24, 2004); AD No. 82 (Aug. 18, 2005); AD No. 89 (Mar. 29, 2006); Goldratt, Eliyahu M., Jeff Cox, and David Whitford. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, 3rd rev. ed. Great Barrington , Mass: North River Press, 2004.
4 Gallo, Phil. “Roth, Van Halens Reunite for Fall Tour.” Variety 14 Aug. 2007: 3+.
5 Cotterman, E.C., and Ju-Ji Yamasuki. “Preppie, Save an Alligator Shoot a.” Retro Hell, 164; Eisler. “Am I in a Time Warp?” E-mail to KT Hernandez Woods, 19 Oct. 2007.
6 Jeffers, Mike. “Plan’s Approval Creates 5 Toll Roads.” DT 9 Oct. 2007: 1-2A.
7 AD No. 97n21 (Mar. 13, 2007).
8 AD No. 28 (July 10, 2001); AD No. 45 (Jan. 5, 2003); AD No. 67 (June 5, 2004); AD No. 97, op. cit.
9 Smith, Adam. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations, Glasgow ed. 1789. Ed. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981: 181.
10 AD No. 50n4 (May 14, 2003); Bourdain, Anthony. A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. New York City: Bloomsbury, 2001; Bourdain. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, 2nd rev. ed. New York City: Ecco Press/Harper Perennial, 2007; Rougeau, Naomi. “Chef Dazzles Paramount.” DT 23 Oct. 2007: 7B-8B; Vann, Mick. “Dinner Partier.” AC 19 Oct. 2007: 44-45.
11 Lucey, Dennis. “Re: Clarification.” E-mail to D. Eisler, 8 Nov. 2007.
12 “Halloween Events.” XL 25 Oct. 2007: 28; O’Shields, Kathryn. “Halloween.” AC 26 Oct. 2007: 79+.
13 AD No. 61n8.
14 Jones, Kimberley. “The Capitol Beat on Books.” AC 9 Nov. 2007: 44.
15 Trachtenberg, Jay. “Cedar Walton.” AC 9 Nov. 2007: 101.
16 Rabin, Nathan. “Bee Movie.” The Onion 8 Nov. 2007, Austin ed.: 18; Trachtenberg. “Tito Puente Jr.” AC 9 Nov. 2007: 101.
17 Faires, Robert. “Austin GuitarTown Project.” AC 26 Oct. 2007: 40; Kelso, John. “Sammy Allred’s Local Color, Not Black and White.” AAS 2 Nov. 2007: B1+; O’Neal, Sean. “Agenda.” The Onion 25 Oct. 2007, Austin ed.: 29.
18 Gillespie, Nick, and Jesse Walker. “South Park Libertarians.” Reason Dec. 2006: 58-69.
19 “Mickey ‘Dean Ween’ Melchiondo of Ween.” The Onion 1 Nov. 2007, Austin ed.: 14.
20 AD No. 75n4 (Dec. 5, 2004); Lewis, Anne S. “Los Angeles, I’m Yours.” AC 9 Nov. 2007: 58.
21 AD No. 20n3 (Aug. 27, 2000).
22 D. Eisler. “Family Connection?” E-mail to Kim Isaac Eisler, 1 Mar. 2001; K.I. Eisler. “Re: Family Connection?” E-mail to D. Eisler, 2 Mar. 2001.
23 D. Eisler. Letter to Tim Kiser, 2 Nov. 2007.
24 Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, rev. ed. New York City: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
25 Brass, Kevin. “KOKE-Air America Crashes, Oppel’s Diversity Technique, and More.” AC 26 Oct. 2007: 28.
26 Franken, Al. “Saturday Night Live Monologue.” Harper’s Magazine April 1989: 50.
27Welch, Dennis. Business District Nov. 2007: 32. 
28 Center for Tactical Magic. “Mobilizing Vehicles for Change.” arthur Sep. 2007: 10.
29 Rubin, Brian. “Millenials Conference.” Geek Monthly Oct. 2007: 12.
30 Smith, Jordan. “Naked City.” AC 9 Nov. 2007: 17.
31 Whittaker, Richard. “Does It Really Pay to Work in Austin?” AC 12 Oct. 2007: 26.
32 AD No. 61n36.
33 AD No. 38n21 (July 7, 2002); Taboada. “Shopping Boom.” AAS 11 Oct. 2007: A1+.
34 Brooks, David. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2000.